Stabbed Catholic priest released from hospital in Turkey; suspect charged

Ankara, Turkey - A Catholic priest who was stabbed over the weekend in Turkey was released from a hospital Wednesday and a prosecutor formally charged a suspect, the private Dogan news agency reported.

The stabbing of the Italian priest, Adriano Franchini, was the latest in a string of attacks on Christians in Turkey. It was likely to add to concerns about whether the predominantly Muslim country, which is working toward European Union membership, can protect its Christian community.

Franchini was stabbed and slightly wounded in the stomach after Sunday Mass at St. Anthony's church in the port city of Izmir.

The priest said he did not want to talk about the stabbing except to say that he did not want it to be exaggerated, according to Dogan.

On Wednesday, a prosecutor charged a 19-year-old man with stabbing and wounding with a knife. No trial date was set yet.

Franchini, who is the head of the Capucine order in Turkey and heads the Church of the Virgin Mary in Ephesus, said he had never seen the suspect before, the report said.

The man reportedly traveled to Izmir from his hometown of Balikesir, north of Izmir, and said he was seeking information on Christianity, the state-run Anatolia news agency reported Sunday.

Franchini invited the man to observe Mass after which the two had a brief discussion about converting to Christianity. The man suddenly became furious and stabbed Franchini in the stomach, Anatolia reported.

Franchini declined to answer questions about any discussion with the suspect, Dogan said.

There have been a number of similar attacks over the past two years.

In February 2006, at a time of widespread anger in the Islamic world over the publication in European newspapers of caricatures of Islam's Prophet Muhammad, a 16-year-old boy fatally shot a Catholic priest as prayed in his church in the Black Sea city of Trabzon.

Following that killing, a Catholic priest was attacked and threatened in Izmir, and another was stabbed in the Black Sea port of Samsun.

Last month, an Assyrian cleric was abducted in southeast Turkey and rescued by security forces.

In April, three Christians were killed at a publishing house that produces Bibles. Last week, Turkey began an investigation into alleged collusion between police officers and at least one of the suspects charged in the killings. The three victims, a German and two Turks who had converted to Christianity, were tied up and their throats were slit.

Christians make up less than 1 percent of Turkey's population of around 70 million.